Best Starting Points in Addiction Recovery Treatment

Seeking professional help for addiction is usually overwhelming. In this professional’s opinion, AA and NA (along with your primary care physician) are better starting points, but if you’re going to add a trained clinician, please consider starting with counseling and not therapy.

There’s an important difference between the two. Therapy is about the past and how it continues to affect us today. Counseling is about dealing with today forward. We’re putting the cart before the horse when we consider how and why everything went to hell. It’s infinitely better to concretely plan and be accountable for taking the steps to get out of hell.

You can deal with the past when your ass is no longer on fire.

Go see your doctor and make sure you’re medically safe. Go to a meeting and ask for help. See a counselor if you want additional support but interview them to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of how to treat addiction (your health insurance company will pay virtually any clinician with a masters degree whether they know what they’re doing or not).

How to Pick the Right One:

One of my biggest criticisms of counselors and therapists alike is that a lot of us talk pretty but don’t get down to the nitty gritty of what (specifically) folks need to do in order to change. When you meet with a counselor ask them what their experience is in treating addiction and to what extent they are willing to offer you specific steps toward recovery.

These are the basics that I recommend after a person’s medical well being is assured:

Keep it simple and be willing to make an honest effort. Are you willing to not drink today? Just for today, are you willing to do whatever it takes to not drink? Stop thinking about the rest of your life and focus on not drinking for the next 24 hours. I am totally, unapologetically biased in favor of 12 step programs and so I offer the adage:

Don’t think. Don’t drink. Go to meetings.

If that’s all we do, we’re well on our way.

People often ask me how to not drink. I annoy them by starting with common sense: Get the alcohol out of your home, office, garage, etc. Stay out of bars. Stay away from people you drink with. Do not go to the liquor store. Do not buy alcohol. Then we move on to what they’re really asking, which is what are they supposed to do instead of drinking:

Next step: embrace responsibility and accountability. If you’re doing treatment and a 12 step program you can have at least two folks assisting you with this – your counselor and a temporary sponsor. You don’t need to make huge commitments. You need someone to call and lean on (especially when you crave a drink), guidance for when you’re not sure what to do next, and you need a relapse prevention plan because:

There are few things more dangerous than a person in early recovery with too much time on their hands. AND because the worst possible time to make a plan is when we’re already scared/squirrelly/antsy. There’s a balance to be struck here: We can’t over commit ourselves to the point of going 100 mph but we have to structure our day to incorporate people and meaningful activities that do not include alcohol/drugs.

Personalize Your Plan/Get Specific:

I spoke recently with an active alcoholic who told me he can’t stop drinking screwdrivers (vodka and orange juice). I’m suggesting he brush his teeth once per hour because orange juice and toothpaste are one of the most disgusting combinations I can think of. Put it under the category of “whatever works.”

I note the habits and routines that are part of a person’s life – everything that gets associated with drinking or using. Example: You put on ESPN and crack open a beer. Ok, how about we temporarily ban Sports Center in order to reduce temptation. Instead, let’s change things up and consciously choose what to do instead. Example – put on loud music and drink huge quantities of water (vital in early recovery as your body seeks to right itself).

The same individual was able to share with me how their drinking has had a negative impact on their loved ones. I’m suggesting that conversations with the family are a great starting point. Generally this is poorly received. Folks get concerned about “burdening”, “imposing” or “getting their hopes up.” I ask if this was a concern when they were drinking/using? Whether we tried to hide it or not it’s almost always had some effect. Talk with them. Let them support you and be part of the solution if they’re willing.

Again we’ll deal with the past after the storm has past. Be clear about this and marshal all the support you can. Getting clean/sober is one of the most bad ass things a human being can do and the road to recovery is long and winding. First things first.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.